Marie Curie: One Of The Most Influential Women Scientists

In a time when it is considered strange for a woman to have a life outside caring for her family, one inspiring lady is showing up all the men. Marie Curie was truly brilliant and persevering in her search for knowledge. Her drive to become educated and respected was unshakeable and shone clearly in her early life. Though she bore much hardship during her young years and struggled to defy the limits surrounding her apparent potential as a woman, she did not let anything stop her from pursuing her passion for science. Her husband, Pierre Curie, was a great support to her during these times, and jointly shared in her discoveries and accomplishments. Together they were one of the greatest unions of the mind and the heart seen in the history of science. And honestly, two greater minds would have been hard to find. Her accomplishments speak for themselves. Marie Curie was an amazing and influential scientist whose ideas are still important and relevant today.

Maria Salomea Sklodowska was born to Wladyslaw and Bronislava Boguska Sklodowska on November 7th, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. The daughter of two teachers, Maria was no stranger to poverty, especially after her father lost his job. By the age of ten, Maria had lost her mother to tuberculosis and a sister to typhus. Stricken with grief, Maria lost her Catholic faith and remained agnostic for the rest of her life. A math and literature prodigy, Sklodowska excelled in school and was “a top student at her secondary school”, but, because she was a woman, she was not allowed to “attend the men’s-only University of Warsaw”, “continued her education in Warsaw's ‘floating university,’ a set of underground, informal classes held in secret.” There she learned physics, natural history, and Polish history and culture. The location of the school “changed regularly to avoid detection by the Russians.” Maria wished desperately to attend a real college but lacked the funds necessary. She found work as a governess until in 1821 she saved enough move to Paris (where her name was pronounced “Marie”) and start her schooling at the Sorbonne. Once she was attending classes she worked any job she could find, even polishing glass equipment in the lab. She also rationed her food so diligently that she collapsed of malnutrition more than once during the school year. Finally, in 1893 and 1894 Sklodowska earned Licenciateships in physics and mathematics. Marie Curie’s later life was partially characterized by her loving marriage, but also by her undying love for science. In July of 1895, while conducting a study on types of steel and their magnetic properties, Marie met Pierre Curie, a 35-year-old French physicist who taught at a local college. A decade before, Pierre and his brother had discovered piezoelectricity, which is “the electric charge produced in solid materials under pressure.” Of their first meeting, Marie wrote ''I was struck by the open expression of his face and by the slight suggestion of detachment in his whole attitude. His speech, rather slow and deliberate, his simplicity, and his smile, at once grave and youthful, inspired confidence.” A romance quickly bloomed between the two, as Pierre was greatly attracted to Marie’s undying drive and passion for learning. “‘It a beautiful thing,’ he wrote, ‘to pass through life together hypnotized in our dreams: your dream for your country; our dream for humanity; our dream for science.’”  He recognized how hard she had worked to receive the education she had, and he made several proposals of marriage before she accepted. The two were married on July 26th, 1895 in a very simple ceremony with family and friends. As a testament to her simple and hardworking personality, Marie wore an ordinary work dress so that she could leave to work at the lab after the ceremony. Soon the two were blessed with two children, though that didn’t keep them from pursuing their passions for science. Marie soon succeeded Pierre as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne and attained a Doctor of Science degree in 1903. As a couple, the two supported each other lovingly in their scientific endeavors until Pierre was trampled and killed by a carriage on April 19th, 1906. Years later, on July 4th, 1934, Marie died from Leukemia, believed to have stemmed from the radiation she was exposed to for her work. Theirs was one of the most successful collaborations between spouses in the history of science.

Marie Curie’s many accomplishments were impressive and caused her name to become extremely well known. The new scientific questions swirling around the world at this time related to X-rays and the unexplained emission of energy from uranium. “Curie conducted her own experiments on uranium rays and discovered that they remained constant, no matter the condition or form of the uranium. The rays, she theorized, came from the element's atomic structure. This revolutionary idea created the field of atomic physics. Curie herself coined the word 'radioactivity' to describe the phenomena.” In 1898, the Curies discovered two new chemical elements they named radium and polonium, after Marie’s home country. These advances in the field paved the way for radiation therapy which is used today to destroy tumors. In 1903, for their work on spontaneous radiation, they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics along with Henri Becquerel. Marie received yet another Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1911, making her the first person in history to win two Noble Prizes, as well as the first woman to win one. Her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie did not disappoint, winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband Frédéric Joliot for their work on the synthesis of new radioactive elements in 1935. She was also the first female teacher at Sorbonne and attended the Solvay Congress in Physics with notable figures like Albert Einstein and Max Planck. Many schools such as the Curie Institute and Pierre and Marie Curie University bear her name. Marie Curie’s many accomplishments were essential to the furthering of knowledge and helped to catapult her to scientific stardom. 

Marie Curie was an extremely intelligent scientist whose undying need for knowledge fueled her drive to be fully educated. No matter the hardship she experienced, she never hesitated in her mission to become a scientist equal to any man. Through her marriage to Pierre, she established a bond that was loving and supportive to her, as well as extremely helpful to the scientific community. As the two made giant scientific advancements together, the name of Curie began to spread through the world like wildfire, giving credit to the hard-working, persevering Curies. Her accomplishments were unparalleled in her time, and, through them, she helped to break down barriers for women. She proved that an individual must be given credit based on their own work, not on their gender. A true scientific genius, Marie Curie and the great advancements she made for science are still relevant today and make her an individual worthy of respect

16 December 2021
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